Looking for an unusual first course for your next dinner party? Look no further. This is elegant, delicious and can be made a day ahead. It looks like it took a long time to make, but in fact, it whips together in about 15 minutes. And it goes down ... like buttah!
It's the culinary version of the little black dress - you can change it around with a different sauce, or use a different vegetable. There are endless variations ... mushroom sformato with cheese sauce; zucchini sformato with red pepper sauce; asparagus sformato with mushroom sauce, etc. etc. etc.
One of the most memorable versions I ever enjoyed was a ricotto sformato, or flan, that I ate at Cibreo's, my favorite restaurant in Florence, Italy. I should amend that to say trattoria, since I never ate at the bonafide Cibreo's restaurant, but rather at the eponymous annex next door. It carries the same menu but at half the price. You don't get the linen table service as in the restaurant, in fact the trattoria is downright casual, and you might have to share a table with a complete stranger. But to me, that's half the fun. And eating Cibreo's much-heralded food is the real reward.
So try this sformato with whatever vegetable you have on hand. I had a lot of cauliflower calling out to me. I didn't wait for a dinner party either. I made it just for the two of us, and was happy to have the leftovers for several more meals. Even if I wasn't at Cibreo's.
(eight 3/4 cup servings)
1 large head of cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets
(about 4 cups)
1 3/4 cup milk or a combination of milk and cream
1/2 stick unsalted butter, plus more for greasing molds
1/4 cup flour plus 1 T.
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
salt, white pepper, to taste
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
tomato sauce, about 2 cups
Cook the cauliflower in water for about 10 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain, then put back into a dry pan and cook for a few minutes to help evaporate any remaining water. Be careful not to let it brown or burn.
Butter eight 3/4 cup oven-proof custard cups or flan molds and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Put the cauliflower in a food processor and puree it until perfectly smooth. Place it into a colander lined with paper towels to absorb any remaining moisture.
Heat the milk in a saucepan until warm and little bubble start to form. In another saucepan over low heat, melt the butter, then add the flour and stir and cook for a couple of minutes until smooth. It will start to get "pasty," but that's fine. Add the milk and continue to stir constantly, using either a whisk or wooden spoon, for about five minutes. Add seasonings and cauliflower puree.
Beat the eggs and add the parmesan cheese. Add the puree mixture to the egg and cheese mixture, starting with a small amount, then increasing the amount a little at a time. You want to slowly raise the temperature of the eggs and cheese. If you add the pureed cauliflower mixture all at once, you risk curdling the eggs.
When everything is mixed, pour into the buttered molds and put the molds in a bain-marie or hot water bath. Bake for about 40 minutes. Remove the molds from the water and let them rest at least 10 minutes before trying to unmold. If you unmold too soon, they won't hold their shape. They actually hold their shape better the next day when you reheat them. I microwaved them in their molds, then flipped them out onto individual plates. Serve as is, or with a simple homemade tomato sauce, if desired.
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